Hypothermia is a serious condition that can occur in dogs during the winter months. It happens when a dog’s body temperature drops too low, which can be dangerous and even life-threatening. Puppies, older dogs, and those with preexisting health conditions are more at risk, as are dogs with short hair or no fur.
To prevent hypothermia, make sure your dog stays warm and dry, and seek veterinary attention if you think they may have hypothermia.
What is dog hypothermia?
Dog hypothermia, also commonly referred to as canine hypothermia, is a medical condition in which the temperature of the dog’s body is drastically below the normal temperature. Hypothermia in dogs is characterized by a reduced body temperature in which the body begins to dissipate more heat than it absorbs.
The average body core temperature in a dog is between 101 degrees and 102.5 degrees Fahrenheit, therefore, any temperature falling under 100 degrees is considered hypothermia in dogs. Sustained hypothermia in dogs leads to more complications and the possible death of the dog.
Extremely low body temperature in dogs that ultimately leads to hypothermia usually follows three stages which include:
- mild hypothermia – the body temperature is between 90 and 99 degrees,
- moderate hypothermia – the body temperature is between 82 to 90 degrees,
- severe hypothermia – the body temperature drops below 82 degrees.
When a severe or acute hypothermia happens, the body can no longer maintain its own temperature causing the central nervous system to slow down, and gradually shut down. This condition may also affect the heart, blood flow, immune system, as well as the respiratory system. In extreme cases, hypothermia in dogs can lead to troubled breathing, irregular heartbeat, and impaired consciousness or a possible coma.
When do dogs get hypothermia?
Hypothermia in dogs is caused by prolonged exposure to low temperatures, wet skin or fur, shock, or submersion in cold water for a long time. Newborn dogs are more sensitive to the cold and can develop hypothermia at normal temperatures. Smaller breeds and older dogs are more likely to get hypothermia. Frostbite can also lead to hypothermia if not treated.
As a dog’s body temperature drops, their blood and oxygen flow decrease. When a dog has wet skin or fur or is submerged under cold water for a long time, they can get colder faster, making them more susceptible to hypothermia. Anesthesia during surgery can also cause hypothermia.
Certain diseases can also increase the risk of hypothermia in dogs, including hormonal imbalances, kidney disease, and illnesses that affect normal blood flow. Hypothermia can also be caused by a disease of the hypothalamus, which is responsible for regulating appetite and body temperature, or by hypothyroidism, a condition where the thyroid hormone levels are lower than normal.
How to tell if a dog has hypothermia?
Knowing when a dog is suffering for hypothermia is a matter of closely monitoring your dog’s movement and attitude. As soon as there is just a single sign of hypothermia, place your dog in a fleece blanket or on a heating pad. Call your veterinary clinic to get assistance with first aid and prevent aggravation.
The most common sign of hypothermia in dogs to watch for is shivering. This is not referring to shaking every now and then, but rather, ongoing. In general, most dogs do shiver quite a bit when they are exposed to low temperatures.
Small breeds of dogs tend to shiver even when the conditions seem normal. However, canine hypothermia will cause small dogs to shiver uncontrollably. The shivering will seem much stronger than the average shake.
Let your dog run a bit and burn some calories and see if he is still shivering afterward. If he is, then chances are, there is a more serious issue at play here. At this point, take action in wrapping him up and keeping him warm until he receives medical attention. Once a dog has reached the level in which shivering becomes a constant nuisance in his behavior, then it needs to be dealt with by a vet. Especially when all steps have been taken to minimize, or even eradicate, this symptom.
When low temperatures begin to affect a dog, you will always notice a change in their color. If you suspect your dog may have hypothermia, take a good look at his skin color. As one of the most common symptoms to be represented in a case of dog hypothermia, pale skin is a very telling sign that lets you know something is not right with your pet. This is caused by a weak blood pressure.
In order to check this, roll back your dog’s fur. Check for any odd discoloration such as white or bluish tones. Grey skin and a dull ash color can indicate a serious problem. If you do notice these skin discolorations or anything that is very pale in comparison to his normal pink skin, then get your dog inside warmer settings as soon as possible because, at this point, your dog will not be able to recover from the underlying issue.
When dog hypothermia begins to set in, it will have a great effect on a dog’s energy level. Lethargy and slower movements are good signs to check for when deciding whether or not hypothermia is at the root.
Lethargy is more than just feeling tired. If your dog is usually pretty active, you will notice a sudden listlessness and change of pace following the exposure to the cold. If you have to move him around with the leash or call to him in order for him to move, then that’s a sure sign he may be suffering from hypothermia. Dogs will walk faster in cooler weather, and in the cold, they will trot.
If the dog reaches a point of giving up, it means his system is shutting down. Pick him up and seek immediate medical attention.
Frostbites in dogs are the direct result of the extremities of the body being exposed to extremely cold temperatures. Frostbite usually occurs in the:
- nose, or
These are areas where there are less fat and insulation available to help protect the dog’s body against subzero temperatures. When frostbite happens, the blood vessels constrict and blood flow is directed to the center of the body in order to preserve the most vital organs, such as the heart, to avoid death.
Watch for signs of frostbites in dogs including swelling, discoloration, raw skin and blisters in the affected area. Symptoms tend to be worse under the top layer. Sometimes, however, frostbite symptoms do not show up for a few days. This condition is especially common when the icy wind blows directly on the dog’s wet nose or when his paws are wet and come in direct contact with ice. Frostbite left untreated can turn into severe hypothermia.
How to warm a dog with hypothermia?
To treat dog hypothermia, keep your dog warm by administering lukewarm fluids and placing them in a warm environment. Check their temperature every 10 minutes and seek veterinary care if their temperature drops below 98 degrees. Once their temperature reaches above 100 degrees, remove the heating pads and towels. Keep monitoring their temperature until they can move around freely. If their condition is severe, a vet may administer fluids intravenously or insert warm water enemas.
Make sure you check the dog’s temperature periodically to ensure his temperature stays stable. Every 10 minutes is a good timing reference initially. If the temperature goes below 98 degrees, then you should seek veterinary care immediately. Once his temperature reaches above 100 degrees, you may remove the water bottles or heating pads and take off the towels.
If your dog has hypothermia, the treatment is to keep him warm. You can do this by giving him lukewarm fluids and avoiding treating frostbite areas in the cold. Check his temperature every 10 minutes and seek veterinary care immediately if it goes below 98 degrees. Keep him indoors in a temperature-controlled room.
Continue monitoring his temperature until he moves around freely, and seek medical attention even if he’s feeling better. In severe cases, a vet may administer fluids intravenously or insert warm water enemas.
The first thing you should do is provide warm towels for the hypothermic dog. The initial attempt at warming a dog using the warm towel method is primarily used in order to prevent further heat loss within the body. Indeed, stopping heat loss is the first step toward warming up the dog.
You can do this by warming some towels in the dryer, if one is available, or you can use a hairdryer. Wrap the dog in the warm blankets to keep him substantially warm. You can keep a hot bottle of water wrapped inside a separate towel and place it next to his abdomen as to avoid burning,
Otherwise, you can use a heating pad as long as it is on its lowest setting. In extreme cases of cold weather, you should probably invest in a kennel heater, a heated dog house and a dog house cover if your dog spends a lot of time outdoors.
Heated Water Bowl
You may now begin giving him warm fluids to avoid dehydration. Keeping him hydrated during the process is important as he may be very weak at this point. Use a heated water bowl to keep the water temperature lukewarm (don’t burn the dog’s tongue). There is no need to force the dog to drink the water. Leave the bowl near the dog and encourage them. Then, let them be so they can drink alone willfully.
If they seem too weak to drink, you should immediately drive to your nearest vet clinic.
How to Diagnose Hypothermia in Dogs
Various medical tests including heart, blood, urine, and breathing exams help dianose canine hypothermia. At first, the vet will measure the dog’s temperature in order to determine how severe the case is.
If hypothermia is indeed suspected, then the vet will check the temperature with the thermometer and in serious cases, a rectal or esophageal probe will have to be used. They will usually offer to perform other various exams in order to get a complete diagnostic.
The initial stage is to determine what exactly was the cause of the hypothermia in the first place. Knowing the cause will help greatly in how best to treat the patient. Optional chemistry tests help check for liver, kidney, or pancreatic diseases and dysfunctions.
Battery of Tests
The vet will also check the heartbeat as well as check for any irregularities in the breathing. An electrocardiogram (ECG) will be performed in order to check for the activity within the heart. This test will show how your dog’s cardiovascular system is doing.
Another test performed in order to diagnose hypothermia in dogs is a urinalysis. This test will check some of the key organs’ health by looking at the dog’s urine quality, and sometimes, their fecal matter too. Diseases affecting the quality of urine include kidney failures, urinary tract infections, digestive complications, and more.
These tests, along with a blood analysis, are used to determine other causes of extremely low body temperature. They may end up revealing a low blood sugar problem in the dog, various metabolic disorders, heart disease, or may point out if the dog has sedatives in his system already. Blood tests also help determine whether inflammations, infections, or cases of anemia are present. A thyroid screening will help to determine if the patient’s gland is producing too little or too much.
How to prevent my dog from getting hypothermia?
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To keep your dog safe from hypothermia, make sure they are not exposed to freezing temperatures for extended periods, especially if they are a newborn, elderly, or sick. Weaker dogs are more likely to experience a drop in body temperature, so it’s important to take extra precautions. If your dogs spend a lot of time outdoors, consider investing in or building an insulated dog house for them.
During the winter, always keep your dog warm and away from drafts. Dogs who have had surgery or anesthesia are also at higher risk for hypothermia. If your dog falls into this category, make sure they are covered in warm blankets during the procedure and monitored for their body temperature until after the surgery is over.
Dogs with low blood sugar (hypoglycemia), low body fat, hypothyroidism, or hypothalamic problems need extra care when exposed to low temperatures. Their bodies can’t handle the cold as well as other dogs, even when it’s not very cold. They may need long-term care, like incubation, to stabilize their temperature.
To keep your dog warm during colder months, use warm clothing like dog boots, sweaters, and other accessories that are designed to keep dogs warm, especially if they are smaller breeds or have thinner fur.
While using external heat sources like kennel heaters and infrared heat lamps can help keep your dog’s environment warm, it’s important to use them safely and responsibly to prevent accidents or injuries. Make sure to follow the manufacturer’s instructions and never leave your dog unattended around any heat source. Additionally, it’s important to remember that prevention also includes avoiding exposure to freezing temperatures and keeping your dog warm with appropriate clothing and shelter. Regular monitoring of your dog’s body temperature can also help catch any potential issues early on.